Disney unwraps brand-new Toy

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BK, Frito-Lay join $145M push

Brett Dicker knew very little about "Toy Story'' before he saw the film for the first time last November. He knew it was the first full-length computer animated feature. He knew Tim Allen and Tom Hanks were supplying the voices. But that was it. No reason for the senior VP of promotions at Walt Disney Pictures to expect he'd be able to put together a sizable marketing push. After all, this wasn't supposed to be the next ''Lion King.''

And then he saw the film.

"Literally, [after] 10 seconds of footage, I knew I was seeing something very special,'' said Mr. Dicker. ``I screened 15 minutes of footage, then went directly to the telephone to call some of our marketing partners and said, `Stop the presses, you're not going to believe what I just saw.' I sold programs to Burger King and Nestle that afternoon.''

Then came Frito-Lay, Coca Cola Co.'s Minute Maid brand and Payless ShoeSource. Together, they were committing $125 million in media and promotional support, with another $20 million in marketing support from Disney. Then the formidable Disney marketing machine got revved up: the Disney Channel added a TV special to its programming slate; Buena Vista Home Video added ''Toy Story'' spots to the 7 million "Cinderella'' videos; and Walt Disney World in Orlando started planning for a daily "Toy Story'' parade.

Then Buena Vista Pictures Marketing got into the act with a World Wide Web site and a $1.3 million ``Toy Story Funhouse'' in Los Angeles featuring three floors of exhibits and live entertainment.

In tapping Frito-Lay as a first-time partner, Disney has cornered prominent display in grocery stores nationwide. The salty snack marketer doesn't often team up with Hollywood but was convinced "Toy Story'' would be the hit of the holidays, said a spokeswoman.

Still, "Toy Story,'' which Disney will release on Nov. 22, is regarded by many as a gamble. It is, after all, a computer-animated film, not the usual Disney classically hand-painted celluloid. In fact, it doesn't even come from Disney; the film was produced by Pixar, the Oscar-winning animation house owned by Apple Computer co-founder Steven Jobs.

The gamble is neatly summarized by Pixar itself in its stock offering prospectus filed with Securities & Exchange Commission:

"While 'Toy Story' is being promoted and marketed by Disney, it has a different look, theme and musical style than Disney's other recent animated films, and there can be no assurance that it will have the same audience appeal as Disney's other animated films.''

This will be a test, then, of Disney's much-vaunted marketing prowess. The film's success will hinge on its appeal with kids, specifically boys. Fortunately for Disney, there will be few movies competing for their attention during the holiday season, save the Warner Bros. comedy "Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls'' and Sony Corp.'s special effects adventure "Jumanji.''

''Toy Story's'' premise--that a boy's toys come to life whenever his back is turned--seems like a can't-miss with the male segment of the Toys ''R'' Us crowd. Disney's initial outdoor and print ad assault has emphasized the two lead characters: Woody, a pull-string talking cowboy, and Buzz Lightyear, a superhero action figure. Subsequent ads have showcased the film's supporting toy stars, from Mr. Potato Head to those ubiquitous little green army men.

But the early focus on new characters like Woody and older icons like Mr. Potato Head was also intended to set the stage for a massive TV blitz, which began last week with a 60-second spot on Mr. Allen's "Home Improvement'' on ABC.

''We wanted to make a big, bold splash with the early ads to familiarize the audience with the new toys and reacquaint them with the old,'' said Dick Cook, president of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution & Marketing and architect of the ''Toy Story'' marketing push. "Now we'll use them to market to various segments: boys, girls, adults, families.''

Tie-in partners are playing the toy card, too. Burger King Corp., with a $45 million effort, will give away six different premium toys in its Kids Meals, including a Mr. Potato Head that required a licensing deal with Hasbro. The toymaker will get a royalty based on the number of Mr. Potato Head meals sold.

BK is also selling plush hand puppets, aimed at adults and kids, for $1.99 with the purchase of an Extra Value Meal. BK will support with eight TV spots from Ammirati & Puris/Lintas, New York, breaking Nov. 16. Alcone Sims O'Brien, Irvine, Calif., is handling the promo.

Minute Maid is squeezing toys into its juice cans. Minute Maid has created ''Toy Story'' four-packs, in which one of the cans is clear and contains a toy. The marketer will support with TV and print in 10 markets from Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York.

But ''Toy Story'' promotions aren't exclusively for boys: ''We wanted to use our partners' wide variety of products to reach as broad an audience as possible,'' Mr. Dicker said.

To that end, Minute Maid will drop a ''Toy Story'' free standing insert on Nov. 19 that touts a sweepstakes in which the grand prize is a trip for four to Walt Disney World. Payless is giving away a book with purchase that includes an original ''Toy Story'' story for kids and coupons for related ''Toy Story'' stuff and other products for adults.

Like any other multifaceted Disney entertainment event, there's more than just a movie to tie into. Frito-Lay will employ four snack brands to plug four mail-in rebate offers for ancillary ''Toy Story'' merchandise.

For these marketers, tying into ''Toy Story'' wasn't as much of a gamble as Pixar makes it out to be.

''Disney has a proven ability to get a broad audience into its movies,'' said John Clendening, VP-Minute Maid business team. '' 'Toy Story' appeals to us because it's for kids, but adults will enjoy it as well.''

Still, the rule of thumb in Hollywood is that promotions should thrive independent of a film's performance. Except for Frito-Lay, most of these promotions have that potential, especially Minute Maid, with its innovative premium offer and Walt Disney World sweepstakes. Minute Maid is the dominant player in frozen juice, but its frozen orange juice product is down 30% since 1991, so it needs a jolt from ''Toy Story,'' Mr. Clendening said.

Walt Disney Records stands to gain from ''Toy Story,'' too, using the film to tout its new website, promoting Disney's catalog of soundtracks. Walt Disney Records is marketing the ''Toy Story'' soundtrack, composed by Randy Newman, and the Wal-Mart exclusive ''Toy Story Play Pack'' that includes a tape, read-along storybook, and play-along toys.

There is one marketing resource that Disney is not exploiting: the star power of Messrs. Allen and Hanks. Disney doesn't typically tout its celebrity voices in ads, and Mr. Cook said Disney intends to stick with its long-held policy.

Disney and Pixar have been derided by some for making a 77-minute commercial for the toy industry. Disney executives acknowledge that the film represents a great opportunity for the studio and the cooperating toy companies, but bristled at the notion ''Toy Story'' is some sort of high-tech advertorial.

''It's not about that at all, and when you see it, you'll realize that,'' Mr. Cook said. ''It's hard to watch this movie and think of these characters as toys because they seem so real. They truly come to life; it's kids' dream come true.''

The movie could also be a dream come true for Mr. Jobs, Pixar chairman-CEO. He timed the stock offering to the movie's release and lavished the offering prospectus with ''Toy Story'' pictures.

If things go according to script, ''Toy Story'' will be Mr. Jobs' comeback story. Booted from Apple in 1985, Mr. Jobs started Next Computer and bought Pixar in 1986 for $10 million. Next has floundered, and Pixar has never made a dime. But the stock offering could value Pixar at more than $500 million.

Pixar won an Academy Award for a short animated film, ''Tin Toy'' and has produced award-winning TV commercials featuring dancing LifeSavers and an animated Listerine bottle.

''They have the best touch on character animation of pretty much anybody I've seen,'' said Andy Arkin, president of Blah Blah Blah, a New York firm that represents commercial production, special effects and animation companies.

Pixar is focusing on making movies, not on selling software or producing commercials. For at least the next two years, Pixar says its business will be ''almost entirely dependent'' on ''Toy Story'' and related products.

Contributing to this story: Mark Gleason, Bradley Johnson and Jeanne Whalen.

Copyright November 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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